Comments and Review by Ken Burke
As I noted recently in my last (massive) posting (which featured a lot of "expert" commentary on my experiences at the Desert Trip music festival) I really try to not include much at this blog site that doesn’t have cinematic relevance of some sort, which is why I linked (but in a not-totally-serious-manner) the musical acts I saw at Desert Trip with relevant filmmakers. Well, this will be another attempt at such to begin this posting—but with a more truly serious intention—to bring cinema to what’s clearly not a film review but instead a parting tribute to my very good friend/ Mills College colleague, Héctor Mario Cavallari, who died last week due to complications from pneumonia (like me he preferred to use his middle name [my first name is Larry—not Lawrence, you’d have to talk to my parents about that, except they’re no longer available for dialogues except through a psychic medium]). An Argentine of Italian, Spanish, and Native South American descent (maybe some other heritages that I’m not as aware of; his paternal grandfather was from Ferrara, Italy, also home of one his favorite film artists, Michelangelo Antonioni), Mario and I shared a love of all things cinematic, good wine (although I’m more willing to buy the cheap stuff than he was), and hearty Mexican meals of margaritas and pork carnitas (although he was also fond of my homemade margaritas when he’d join my wonderful wife, Nina, and me for our annual celebrations of the Oscar broadcast or a screening of Picnic [Joshua Logan, 1955] on Labor Day*). As a Professor of Spanish and Spanish American Studies he mostly taught language and literature but also offered classes on Spanish and Hispanic films, joined me and Nina (and a couple of other close friends) for regular Friday night ventures to the local theaters, and even collaborated with me on a couple of articles (one about intersections of communication and film theories, another analyzing the Cortâzer short story, Antonioni film of Blow-Up**). You couldn’t find anyone—including professional film critics—who loved cinema more than Mario (he probably watched a DVD every night, even after having just seen something with us at a local moviehouse), so I feel totally justified including him within the realm of Two Guys in the Dark, but even if that weren’t the case I’d still use this space to say a public goodbye to a guy I knew for almost 30 years, who was almost like a brother to an only child like me.
*In tribute to both Mario and Nina (with their much greater fondness for this campy movie than me) I’ll offer one of their favorite scenes, the one based on "Moonglow", where "same old" Hal Carter (William Holden) suddenly finds himself dancing with sultry Madge Owens (Kim Novak)—before he seems to forget her name and calls her “Baby” about a dozen times throughout the rest of the story (there could be a drinking game in which you have to chug a beer every time he says that, but you'd get way too drunk to finish watching the movie).
**You’re welcome to
go here to download the Blow-Up article; that is, if you don’t mind wading through the glop of its use of academic prose.
Adiós, mi major amigo! Via con Dios! (Or at least may your preferred deity, the Universal Goddess take your spirit again to those great wineries you found in the Sierra Nevada foothills.) Meanwhile, we can sing along with Paul McCartney while we embrace your memory with “Picasso’s Last Words (Drink to Me)” (based on the great painter’s goodbye to our world, from the 1973 Wings album, Band on the Run) at https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Ud6JY0EeM5Q (including a quick reprise from another song on the album, “Jet”), both because you admired Picasso so much (as does Nina) and because these lyrics now relate to you as well.* As with Picasso, your life will live on in the hearts of those who were so fortunate as to know and share some time with you. That being said, I’ll shift to my only movie review this week (as I’ve been somewhat preoccupied with other matters).
*Here’s a reminiscence from McCartney and Dustin Hoffman on how this song spontaneously came about, a story about serendipitous creation that I know Mario would greatly have enjoyed.
Take care, curious readers, for plot spoilers gallop rampantly throughout the Two Guys’ insightful reviews. Therefore, be warned, beware, and read on when you’re ready to be transported to … wherever we end up. Please protect your eyes from the dazzling brilliance.
Inferno (Ron Howard)
Once again, Tom Hanks portrays Professor Robert Langdon, famous Harvard symbologist, who this time wakes up in a Florence, Italy hospital room not knowing how he got there or why he’s being hunted by killers; in a complex plot that involves mysteries, deceptions, Dante, Botticelli, many narrow escapes, and a contemporary plague intended to reduce the world’s overpopulation, we also travel to Venice and Istanbul before all of our questions are answered.
What Happens: We begin with a grainy Internet video of Bertrand Zobrist (Ben Foster) (whose name keeps reminding me of Chicago Cubs baseball star Ben Zobrist, briefly with my downtrodden Oakland Athletics until he [as usual] became valuable trade bait; now he’s a major factor in the Cubs winning their 1st World Series since 1908, even getting the MVP trophy for the Series) giving one of his doomsday-speeches about how continuing, unchecked growth of humans will soon overwhelm the ecology of our planet, bringing about climate collapse along with the end of our species (plus many others as the curtain of destruction falls upon Earth), with the voiceover question of “Do you love humanity enough to save it?” (A foreshadowing of a critical question asked later in the movie of our protagonist: Is he willing to sacrifice half of his global neighbors in order to preserve the survivors for continuance into the future?) From there, we find Zobrist (the story’s seeming-mad-scientist—well, he’s definitely angry, if not sort of insane—rather than the baseball player) on the run in Florence, Italy where he’s trapped at the top of a tall tower, but rather than reveal the location of Inferno (whatever it is), he falls backward to his death. Cut to another crisis, where famed Harvard Professor of symbology (and art history; the latter a real discipline, the former not at all, surprisingly enough) Robert Langdon (Tom Hanks) wakes up in a very disoriented state in a hospital where he’s told he’s recovering from a head wound caused by a bullet that grazed his scalp rather than entering it; as if that’s not bad enough (along with no memory of these events) he realizes that he’s also in Florence, not Cambridge, MA where he last can locate himself a couple of days ago. Shot in a manner that mirrors Langdon’s confusion (rapid cuts, odd angles, some blurred focus)—made even more frightening by his constant visions of a woman calling for him to “seek and find” as the environment swirls into chaos of fear, fire, and destruction), the situation soon further intensifies as Vayentha (Ana Ularu), an assassin dressed in an Italian police uniform, marches down the hospital hall with homicidal intent, shooting a doctor in the process.
Another doctor, Sienna Brooks (Felicity Jones)—a brilliant Brit working at this hospital—manages to get Langdon away from his intended killer
(in a much, much more desperately-active-manner than the cool strategy displayed by Michael Corleone [Al Pacino] in protecting his hospitalized father, Vito [Marlon Brando] from a rival mob's hit squad in The Godfather [Francis Ford Coppola, 1972]; just watched it again a couple of weeks ago, hard to shake off its indelible imagery), gets away in a cab from the pursuing Vayentha, hides him in her apartment, then finds a “Faraday pointer” (a small projection device) hidden in his clothing. When he activates it, they see a visual of Botticelli’s painting of The Abyss of Hell, based on the complex descriptions of this horror in Dante’s Inferno (part of the 1307 epic poem, the Divine Comedy); immediately, though, Langdon realizes that aspects of the famed 9 circles of this site of damnation have been strangely rearranged, with some added letters in various places, along with a notation about “looking through the eyes of death.” Langdon contacts the American Embassy for help but Sienna tells him to give the address of a building across the street so as not to give away their location too quickly (he undermines that, though, by using her laptop while she’s showering to check his email for clues about his weird circumstances, which allows Vayentha to locate him, even as armed troops arrive at the fake address, based on the intercepted call that never reached the Embassy). Once again, Langdon and Sienna are on the run, with what seems like 2 separate assassins after them (the military-like-squad turns out to be from the World Health Organization, led by Christoph Bouchard [Omar Sy]—who chased Zobrist to the top of that tower—unrelated to Vayentha, who’s under the direction of a clandestine group, The Consortium, headed by The Provost, Harry Sims [Irrfan Khan]). Ultimately, they all end up at the Palazzo Vecchio where Langdon finds the same encrypted message in a huge Vasari painting as is inserted into the modified Botticelli projection, leading him to find answers in the actual death mask of Dante, on display in this huge palace-turned-museum.
However, answers aren’t forthcoming because the valued mask is missing, surveillance video shows that Langdon and his prominent Florentine friend, Ignazio Busoni
(Gábor Urmai), took it the previous night, and a call to Busoni’s office reveals that he’s now dead but, in a coded message left for Langdon, he’s noted the location of the mask. (For once, I was trying to read the novel a movie was adapted from before seeing it, but in the case of Inferno this is as far into the narrative as I got before my screening day came around; my strong reactions to what I saw in the rest of it vs. what I later read in the book are explored in this review’s next section.) Using a dangerous exit route across narrow beams through an attic in the Palazzo, Langdon and Sienna are stalked by Vayentha, but Sienna manages to trip their adversary who falls to her death in a huge room far below, as she rips through a painting suspended from the ceiling. After Langdon deciphers Busoni’s clue, our escapees make their way to Florence Cathedral’s San Giovanni Baptistery, finding the Dante mask where Zobrist has written further hints as to how to locate his hidden Inferno device, which by now is understood as a deadly virus intended to decimate the human population, in a manner reminiscent of the Medieval Black Plague, so as to allow the survivors to rebuild society in a manner more conducive to harmonious co-existence with the planet’s resources (Langdon’s getting some of his short-term-memory back so the camerawork and editing are no longer emulating his confusion, but he’s still periodically having visions that imply impending catastrophe, inspired by the grotesque imagery of the Botticelli painting). Meanwhile, back on his shipboard headquarters we’ve learned that The Provost was providing secrecy for Zobrist (guarded by Vayentha) in The Consortium’s standard “no questions asked” protocol, but decides to break his own rules to view the video that Zobrist intended to soon be released to worldwide media in which Sims in shocked to find his client detailing his deadly plan, showing the killer virus in a transparent pouch slightly submerged in some unknown location.
Based on the mask’s clues, Langdon and Sienna go to Venice, hoping to find the Inferno virus hidden somewhere near a former doge’s grave in that vast city. Somehow (I forget; my notes are no help either as things were moving fast at that point—well, actually, the plot moves at a constantly-rapid-pace throughout this movie, so if you decide to see it take your restroom break before it starts because you don’t want to miss anything, whether it be story elements or any of the gorgeous scenery which may soon have you contacting a travel agent to book a flight to Italy before that hard-hit-country has to cope with yet another devastating earthquake) they’re joined by Bouchard who tells them that they must beware of Dr. Elizabeth Sinskey (SIdse Babett Knudsen), head of the WHO, because she intends to grab the virus for herself, then sell it to the highest bidder. Langdon soon realizes that it’s Bouchard who’s the traitor, so he and Sienna once again escape, arriving at St. Mark’s Cathedral in Venice where he’s told that the doge crypt they seek, Enrico Dandolo's, is actually in Istanbul. Spotting Bouchard in pursuit of them, they attempt to escape through an underground passageway that leads to a grate holding them back from the plaza. Sienna gets help to open the grate, allowing her climb to safety, but then shuts it on Robert, telling him as she rushes away that she was Zobrist’s lover, that all these clues were intended to lead her to the Inferno virus in case something happened to prevent him from releasing it. Robert’s then caught by Bouchard and is about to be tortured to reveal Inferno’s location when he’s saved by The Provost. As this point, things can get really confusing because even more of what we’ve "known" turns out to have been part of an elaborate setup by The Consortium to help Sienna after Zobrist’s death, without them knowing what these revolutionary lovers were up to.
In the process of some exposition and helpful flashbacks we find that Langdon was contacted in Cambridge by Sinskey to help the WHO locate Inferno, with no clue at that point where it was, when it was set to be activated, or what it was intended to accomplish, but they did somehow have the Faraday pointer, although they couldn’t decipher the Botticelli image. The Provost, worried that Langdon might help undermine whatever Zobrist paid The Consortium to protect, had him whisked away in a kidnapping (soon after the theft of the Dante mask), injected with a memory-loss-drug, faked the head wound, then set up the entire scenario of the hospital, Vayentha as assassin (she was shooting blanks), and Sienna as his rescuer, all in order to turn him away from the WHO as well as help Sienna finalize Zobrist’s then-unknown-project. Further complicating all of this, Sinskey and Langdon were lovers themselves years ago but pulled apart, as she took her position with WHO in Geneva, because neither wanted to disrupt the other’s emerging career. Now that they’re all (except Sienna) on the same side, it’s off to the famous Hagia Sofia basilica/mosque/museum where the sought-after-doge’s burial site with the sound of water running underneath leads them to the fabulous underground Basilica Cistern as a summer solstice concert is being held, all planned by Zobrist for the release of the virus which would then be spread by the many attendees. In the struggle to locate Inferno, Sienna kills The Provost, then sacrifices herself to activate a bomb to rupture the virus bag, but Sinskey managed to get it contained in a pressure-proof-box so calamity is averted. Langdon and Sinskey agree their careers will continue to keep them apart, but before heading home he returns to Florence to stealthily return the Dante mask (why he’s not caught on surveillance video this time I’m not sure). All of this occurs in about 2 hours of running time, although 1 of my local papers said 160 min.; admittedly, the action is so dense that it feels like there’s more there than what you’ve witnessed, but I don’t mean that in a negative way.
So What? Unlike with my usual practice when novels are transformed into their cinematic equivalents—that is,
I never read the books at all—in the case of Dan Brown’s Robert Langdon stories I’ve actually read all 4 of them (including The Lost Symbol , which Howard and Hanks haven’t gotten to yet), although I began with how I usually do when I explore a narrative in both media, I first saw the movie of The Da Vinci Code (Howard, 2006), enjoyed it thoroughly then read the book (2003), which encouraged me to read ahead with Angels & Demons (2000) even before seeing the movie (Howard, 2009), presented as a sequel to … Code despite the reverse order of the books. Given that both of these adaptations were fairly-faithful-renditions from written to audiovisual mediums I tried to break my usual pattern again by reading Inferno (2013) before seeing its filmic equivalent, but that provided complications in several directions. My eager-reader-wife, Nina, managed to finish the Inferno novel just before the movie was released, but I got only halfway through it before we saw the adaptation yet I felt comfortable it was all falling into place in much the same manner while watching the movie unfold, except there’s a notable written character, Agent Cristoph Brüder of the SRS (Surveillance and Response Support, of the European Center for Disease Prevention and Control), seemingly at first another assassin—along with Vayentha—leading a team after Langdon I presumed to be further troops of The Consortium but I further assumed this written character could be Bouchard, with his soldiers as semi-WHO troops (which in fact they turn out to be in the novel, although technically they belong to another group not connected to the Consortium at all). When I got back to the book, though, I was shocked to find out that after the halfway point of the plot the written and cinematic narratives of this story diverge in several significant ways.
First (as long as you can tolerate even more of my Spoilers if you’re still planning on a reading of Brown’s work), in the book Elizabeth Sinskey is not Langdon’s former lover but instead is just a frantically-concerned-person hoping to stop a dreadful epidemic who’s turned to Langdon to help locate the virus before it’s released (he doesn’t remember his initial meeting with her regarding this crisis in either case, but there the similarities stop, even in appearance as in her novel manifestation she’s notably older than him, with long silvery hair—and in another of this story’s many red-herrings in either medium, she also is assumed for several chapters to be a hostage of The Consortium, until we find the soldiers with her are the SRS team, giving her requested injections for a medical condition, not attempting to keep her docile. Second, like The Provost, Sienna also comes to believe that the virus must be contained but she rushes to Instanbul to destroy it herself, not trusting what the WHO or various governments might do with such DNA-altering technology, although she’s as fooled as everyone else about Zobrist’s actual date of release (she supports the concept, though, so I have to assume she finally decides it’s not right for one guy to determine the fate of the planet’s population, no matter how much she agrees with the outcome).
Third—and most crucial regarding these notable presentational differences—in the novel, Zobrist’s virus is not only not intended to kill people
but it’s also not set to detonate on the date everyone assumes; it’s already seeped out of its intentionally-timed-release-decomposing-bag a week earlier (the concerts in the Basilica Cistern, sponsored secretly by Zobrist, have gone on all week, where they've attracted many hundreds of virus-carriers to this well-located-international city so that Zobrist’s looming date is when his invention will have spread worldwide). Rather than being a biohazard-attack-device it’s an airborne-vector virus intended to penetrate human cells, modifying their DNA to produce sterility, Zobrist’s plan to reduce our planet’s excess population (somehow, though, it would only activate in about 1/3 of infected people and their descendants so our species would survive just reduce in size, as fewer people would be harmonious with available resources; I never could understand how this could randomly occur [or maybe this is where it all becomes pure sci-fi] nor what happens after the sterile people die off but the non-steriles keep reproducing, but in scenarios like this it’s best to not ask too many of these questions). Finally, rather than being arrested for her part in this plot (as is The Provost in this version), Sienna works with Dr. Sinskey (who sees the value in Zobrist’s intentions, if not his methods) seemingly to manage the result of this change in human evolution for the benefit of the species, however that’s going to occur.
This 3rd change from novel to movie noted above is, in the words of Robert Frost’s famous “The Road Not Taken”
poem (1916), the one “that has made all the difference” because it changes the intent of the virus (to totally modify humankind, possibly giving us the option of truly controlling, directing population growth rather than just viciously killing off billions); it makes Zobrist seem a little less mad in his methods; it completely changes Sienna’s motivations and existence; it erases the standard-suspense-movie-“rescued from doomsday”-scenario that we’ve come to expect in such stories as well as erasing the past-connection between Langdon
and Sinskey, whereas potential-future-Langdon-movies might even revive her as a love interest or collaborator with our bachelor professor if Dan Brown continues writing these stories while Howard continues with major shifts in content that completely confound these novels' intentions (and deeper possibilities for contemplation of our collective future that the author has raised but are swept out of consideration in this streamlined-to-action-adventure-adaptation). Given the tepid critical response (see the next section below for more details) and the so-far-mildly-enthusiastic-response at the box-office (at least domestically, but it’s being propped up quite a bit in foreign markets), we may not have to be concerned about any more of these Langdon-mystery-tales making it to a theater near you in the future, although both Hanks and Jones hold up their ends of the acting requirements quite well, just as Howard continues to demonstrate solid technical skills in polishing his product for mass consumption. I guess Tyler Perry’s campy drag comedy of Boo! A Madea Halloween (grossed 52.6 million domestic dollars in 2 weeks of release) proved to be more appealing than stunning scenery and a lot of confusing plot twists, although Boo! …’s not that critically-embraced either (Rotten Tomatoes notes 23% positive reviews, Metacritic gives a 30% average score), but then not much I’ve reviewed lately—with my notably higher numbers, although only in the 3-3½-star-range—has been shown much love by my highly-critical critic colleagues.
Final Comments: Public consumption of the previous Langdon stories on screen when compared to reviewer tolerance was extremely varied in the results
(… Code grossed $758 million worldwide, with an RT average of a mere 25%, 46% at MC; Angels … grossed about $486 million worldwide but its critical response was also miserable: 37% at RT, 48% at MC), with this new Langdon movie being no exception as
the critical consensus remains pitifully low at a horrid 20% at RT, 44% at MC but now coupled to a relatively-limp-debut at the box-office with “only” $14.9 million in what's called the domestic market (the combined take from the U.S. and Canada); however, shortfalls at home may be made up with revenues from oversees as the worldwide total came in at about $147.7 million last weekend. Once again, as I noted in my comments on the current The Birth of a Nation (Nate Parker; review in our October 27, 2016 posting) there are times when relevant distractions about a director’s worth as a human being make it hard to be objective about evaluating that person’s artistic output, just as notable twistings of verifiable historical facts (The Birth … again, Southside With You [Richard Tanne; review in our September 1, 2016 posting], Sully [Clint Eastwood; review in our September 15, 2016 posting]) can interfere with trying to just judge what’s on screen based on its own merits; however, I’m not usually put in the position of objecting to how a filmmaking team notably alters its adaptation source because I’ve so rarely read the original novels—even after the fact of seeing the cinematic version—but that problem does come into play this time, though, even as I finished reading the book (with all of the surprises coming in the part that I hadn’t gotten to yet) after seeing Howard’s version in the theater but before I got around to writing this review. What I saw was a successful example of entertaining diversion where a complicated mystery needs to be solved in order to protect humanity from impending disaster, with lots of twists and turns that keep the plot explication from being too predictable (except for the assumption that somehow the movie’s bioweapon version of the virus will be contained, even if only by barely-last-second-heroics).
What I read, though, was a much more interesting concept about a less-brutal-means of reducing human overpopulation which causes me to question—as so many readers of books-turned-into-films regularly do—whether what comes on the screen has been so bastardized (as a child of illegitimacy myself, I feel absolved to use this term without concern for your reproach, just as other normally-offensive-words have been reclaimed by those who are referenced by these hostile terms as a strategy of reducing their hurtful power, as best harmful speech can ever be neutralized) as to question the value of the starkly-different-denouement of Ron Howard’s Inferno compared to Dan Brown’s original. Regarding the subject of overpopulation, both media versions of this story hit us bluntly with verifiable facts about how the human presence on this planet has grown in exponential fashion, reaching into the multi-billions just in recent times with fearful projections of further huge increases in the near future providing struggles for nourishment, water, inhabitable space, all the while trying to reduce factors of climate change that lead to increasing pollution, destruction of needed resources, and loss of land due to rising ocean levels. As the book’s Dr. Sienna Brooks points out, our current efforts to address just the rising population aspects of this frightful dilemma are proving ineffective even with increased attempts at information about birth control because of the various forces working against that reasonable method of population-containment from religious prohibitions, tribal desires to increase certain clans, or simple ignorance of physiological facts in many underdeveloped parts of our planet (birth increases have slowed dramatically in much of the industrialized world, but that only sets up more of the migratory crises that currently enflame much of Europe as the downtrodden look desperately to other [limited] locations to escape the burdens of war, famine, and brutal governments that truly are a plague on their existences). Somehow, we need to curb our programmed biological imperative to reproduce at such a rapid rate, as nature has little means to control our extensive breeding short of physical catastrophes and viral outbreaks.
In Inferno’s written form, everyone who’s out to stop Bertrand Zobrist’s maniacal solution will eventually, essentially agree that his singular focus on overpopulation calls attention to a real problem, one that must be addressed and solved if we’re to keep from running this planet into extinction (long before we have the resources to even attempt to relocate even the privileged few to some other safe cosmic home), but they don’t feel that his unique, secretive-sterilization plot is an appropriate strategy for one billionaire scientist to impose upon everyone else without some form of cooperative dialogue. (Although, given our species’ horrible history of such "cooperation" over the millennia since we’ve taken control of Earth, an easy argument could be made that trying to collectively reason through our difficulties is about as unlikely as sending ordinary jet airliners to the moon to establish survival colonies, magically creating atmosphere and water in the process—this intra-species-hostility is shown marvelously-well in a quasi-humorous-manner [with deadly-serious-overtones] at least as far back as in the hostile reception/global-governmental-non-engagement accorded alien-visitor Klaatu in The Day the Earth Stood Still [Robert Wise, 1951].) Yet, once Zobrist’s sterility virus has taken root in the book, the implication is that cooler heads will attempt to manage the now-changed-DNA-situation, even though many of the current population will have no input into whether they can become child-bearers or not (unlike those of us who’ve voluntarily made that choice, for whatever our personal reasons may be) so management of this new reality will be difficult, even if the overall result is our only hope of planetary survival. Brown doesn’t get into the complex ethical, moral, even pragmatic aspects of these issues, but just by raising the questions—even in this fictional context—he opens doors for dialogue that might not even be raised if the many non-scientific-minds among us don’t surprisingly-encounter such weighty concepts in the unexpected realm of popular entertainment.
However, Ron Howard (along with screenwriter David Koepp) clearly eliminated all of that line of curious thought by simply turning the virus into a biological plague that could kill its victims before they even know what hit them (with fear intensified in both book and movie as various characters seem to us to have legitimate reasons to have already been infected with such a deadly-disease, even though those traumas are all explained away later as being connected to other, non-lethal medical circumstances). This situation has been the source of narrative terror in many prior movies, so when the anticipated crisis is resolved (as it usually is, for example in Outbreak [Wolfgang Petersen, 1995], except for a few zombie-apocalypse-scenarios such as 28 Days Later [Danny Boyle, 2002] or I Am Legend [Francis Lawrence, 2007], but even there we find final hope for human survivors of these far-reaching-plagues) we leave Inferno simply showing us we’ve been on a familiar-thrill-ride where brilliant Professor Langdon has once again done something spectacular (as in The Da Vinci Code where he found human descendants of the marriage of Jesus and Mary Magdalene, thereby undermining the concept of Jesus’ divinity [but keeping it quiet so Christianity’s not publically challenged] or in Angels & Demons where he gets back on the Vatican’s good side by preventing an insidious plot to put a fanatic into the Papacy [although, again, without large-scale-public-knowledge of the details, plus the deaths of 3 Cardinals in the process]) that we can celebrate but won’t be detailed in the morning papers (or, more likely, Web-based news feeds). The movie still works well (in my minority-opinion), accomplishing what it sets out to do, so I’ll stick with my initial thought of 3½ stars for great use of escapism (and luscious locations), but I’ll admit that after reading the rest of the book I can only wish that Howard had dared to go with Brown’s original directions, although providing a contemplative conclusion would likely have resulted in even less audience-enthusiasm that his actual choice has accomplished.
It’s a shame that well-produced-distraction-entertainment (that gives us all some relief from constant preoccupation with the Presidential campaign's alleged email controversies and nasty groping accusations, all of which may soon be blessedly put to rest anyway) is so rarely used as a vehicle for raising audience awareness into serious, policy-based discussions that actually seek acceptable solutions for vital issues of the day (given that such well-attended-entertainment-venues now seem the best method for reaching the short-attention-span-audience of our modern, technologically-driven world), but, alas, that rarely happens, so maybe I should just be satisfied that academics such as Indiana Jones (if you recall that he actually does teach once in awhile) and Robert Langdon can be made into pop-media-heroes, admittedly with the former displaying a lot of physical prowess while the latter mostly makes strides of the mind (although he does stride quickly through Florence and other cities—as shown in several of these press photos available to me—thereby proving that even scholars can display some decent conditioning despite having been drugged by a nefarious underground organization). See, kids, academia can be as exciting as the Marine Corps! Just mix in a few pushups with your library research* (especially if you focus on
picturesque countries with delicious food that you’ll never have time to eat as you rush from one desirable-location to the next). A final exciting aspect of this review, though, will be the long-awaited-choice of a marvelous Musical Metaphor intended to speak to my experience with Inferno, which in this cinematic adaption is about one person’s determination to do a radical cleansing of the human race for our mutual benefit to achieve a breaking-through of the wall of uninformed or unconcerned inaction that’s kept us oblivious to our miserable fate for far too long. Maybe I’m still reminiscing too much about the terrific time Nina and I had at the Desert Trip music festival a couple of weeks ago, but what comes to mind (possibly as a bit of a sarcastic jab at Howard’s safe-steering-away from the more substantial issues in Brown’s book) is Roger Waters' condemnation of building such walls in the first place, alienating ourselves (and our children) from breaking through to new understandings (as well as the more-subtle-messages, in not adapting the book’s actual content, that “saviors” such as Langdon and the WHO are simply perpetuating that “wall” by distracting us with tales of rescue that imply a return to the “wait until tomorrow to deal with this population problem” status-quo). Accordingly, I’ll leave you with “Another Brick in the Wall, Part 2” (from the 1979 Pink Floyd album, The Wall) at https://www.you tube.com/watch?v=YR5ApYxkU-U, which you can use to either add to that ever-growing-enclosure or throw at it in hopes of liberating some new ideas (rather than just more “thought control”).
*Speaking of research, if you’re interested in knowing more about Dante’s Inferno but prefer the visual excitement of video games to reading centuries-old-poetry (in translation at that, unless you’re fluent in Italian) you might be interested in this animated feature movie (1:28:11) based more on one such game than the written version but still largely true to the original concepts of the author—with the Roman poet Virgil as his guide—although now as a heroic-warrior on a quest to rescue the soul of his lost love, Beatrice, from the underworld as he works his way through the 9 Circles of Hell (including the 7 Deadly Sins) in an environment akin to The Lord of the Rings’ dark world of Mordor, until Dante and Virgil leave this land of damnation to arrive at Mount Purgatory.
In Closing …
Now, in speaking of another wall, like I said at the start of this posting I try to not get into topics that I can’t somehow relate to the wide world of cinema, but I’ve been a bit limited in my viewing time this week so all that I’ve had a chance to see is Inferno (except for a return via Netflix DVD to the great documentary Janis: Little Girl Blue [Amy Berg, 2015]; review in our December 2, 2015 posting—whose subject will always “break another little piece of my heart”); however, I can brag about one other accomplishment which finally came to pass that I know Mario Cavallari would have appreciated had I been able to tell him about it—even though it has nothing remotely to do with cinema and despite the fact that he generally preferred drinking wine or margaritas (preferably the Cadillac version, further bolstered by an extra shot of tequila) to beer (except on hot summer days)—acknowledgement at San Leandro, CA's Englander Sports Pub & Restaurant where Nina and I have joined their elite society of beer connoisseurs who’ve tried all they have to offer from their 75 taps (they also have a few just in bottles but we’ve tried to stay pure in our quest, except where Belgians are concerned). While we’d wander into this place periodically (not too far from our home in Hayward) and marvel at all of the brew-choices we also admired the plaques of those celebrated on the wall who accomplished the ultimate sampling task. So, in October of 2014 we “set out on the road, seeking’ [our] fame and fortune” (to sample a line from Creedence Clearwater Revival’s song about another CA town, “Lodi” [from their 1969 Green River album*], but with no intentions of finding “a pot of gold,” just golden [or red or brown] liquid by the glassful), then returned most Thursday afternoons to get a couple of pints (we’d each get a new one, then share when the glasses were half-full—you never have to worry about being half-empty in a place like this) or more, then I’d take notes so that we’d have some reference for ordering by choice after we’d run the table (so to speak). Logistics sometimes forced us to skip a week here
and there, requiring us to take until February of this year to finally finish the course, with the further difficulty—if you’re still trying to keep it pure—of the pub regularly rotating some new product in so that trying to literally sample some of everything required adding to the original intention of 75 (we’re now up to about 105). Finally, as winter was on the wane earlier this year we reached our goal, with the plaques then being ordered (over recent years, though, the place had discontinued the practice, so apparently no one else had attempted to perform this feat; our determination impressed the management, leading to our revival of the tradition as well as a slightly different style of plaque). The next task was getting them onto the wall at a time convenient for the owners which finally happened while we were off at Desert Trip (hey, we go to the place to drink beer, not marvel at their home-improvement-skills); therefore, we can now share our triumph with the world (particularly my readers in the U.K., Ireland, and Australia, who really know how to appreciate this sort of thing). Ironically, though, what I liked best when we started—Guinness for ales, Stella Artois or Kona Longboard for lagers—are still my favorites, although we’ve now found some tasty substitutes, such as Brother Thelonious Belgian-style Abbey Ale from the North Coast Brewing Co. in Ft. Bragg, CA, a few hours north of us (every sale of this tasty stuff helps support Washington, D.C.’s Thelonious Monk Institute of Jazz). I’ll admit that Bob Dylan snagged the bigger award with his Nobel Prize in Literature, but I’m still very pleased with how Nina and I have succeeded at one skill that we ‘ve honed from long-invested-experience.
*The situation in this song’s a lot more miserable than our experiences at The Englander (as always, no payola for us, just a good place to relax, sip a brew, eat some pub food, watch multiple screens of sports), but it’s too temping to resist singing along with one more time so belt it out with John Fogerty and the boys in memory of anywhere or anyone you’ve ever found yourself “stuck” with.
Related Links Which You Might Find Interesting:
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Here’s more information about Inferno:
https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=r3oh6TjLRJQ (9:10 interview with Inferno original novel author Dan Brown)
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By the way, if you’re ever at The Hotel California knock on my door—but you know what the check out policy is so be prepared to stay for awhile. Ken
P.S. Just to show that I haven’t fully flushed Texas out of my system here’s an alternative destination for you, Home in a Texas Bar, with Gary P. Nunn and Jerry Jeff Walker.
WE DO OUR VERY BEST TO PRESENT THESE TWO GUYS POSTINGS IN A VISUALLY-CONSIDERED GRAPHIC LAYOUT, BUT EXTENSIVE TRIAL-AND-ERROR HAS SHOWN US THAT UNLESS YOU’RE READING OUR REVIEWS ON A MACINTOSH COMPUTER USING MAC OS X 10.10.5 AND SAFARI 10.0.1 YOU’LL LIKELY SEE A SLOPPIER PRESENTATION THAN WHAT WE INTENDED (but Google Chrome 54.0.2840.71 usually comes fairly close to our intentions). OUR APOLOGIES FOR ANY INADVERTENT MESS THAT WE HAVEN’T YET FOUND A SUCCESSFUL WAY TO CONTROL.